Interview: Holy Ghost!
DFA duo Holy Ghost! first came onto the disco radar with the superb “Hold On” single in 2007, which was quickly followed by a slew of remixes for the likes of Panthers, Cut Copy and In Flagranti. With a debut album due out in 2010, Juno Plus caught up with Nick and Alex to talk about vintage production techniques, James Murphy’s coffee making skills and the New York Knicks…
How is your debut album coming along?
Nick: Really well, it has been two years in the making. We got to a stage where most songs were 75 per cent done, but because we’d been working on them so long, we started to hit a wall. We hooked up with this producer Chris Zane (Shy Child, Passion Pit), and he’s been able to take the songs to where they need to be. He’s a gear-head and he loves his analogue equipment, and he’s also got a lot of technical knowledge that we lack.
When do you think it will be out?
Alex: Not for a little while. We’ll probably release a single in the next six months. We’re probably looking at mid 2010 for the album.
Are there any collaborations you can tell us about?
Alex: We’ve got Michael McDonald from Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers singing one of the tracks and Caroline from Chairlift does some Stevie Nicks-style angelic vocals in another. We also work with Chris from Penguin Prison, who is an enormously talented individual. He helps us write some of our music, and we’ll help him out a bit too.
Your production incorporates a lot of analogue equipment. Do you think it gives you a more unique sound?
Nick: That’s the main reason we spend some much damn money on it, because it sounds better. It’s also the way we’ve learned to make music from James (Murphy) and Tim (Goldsworthy). And I want to point out that it’s not like we’re experts at Reason and Ableton and choose not to use those programs. We’ve been practicing our live set and we are trying to incorporate Ableton but we’ve got no idea (laughs). It’s like watching your grandpa trying to use a digital camera.
“We’ve tried Ableton … It was like watching your grandpa trying to use a digital camera”
Your sound evokes images of 80s New York…is that an intentional thing?
Nick: Well it’s not a deliberate attempt to sound or look retro, that’s just the music we like. As far as copying the New Order video for “I Will Come Back”, we didn’t recreate anything. It was all shot in New York now – real pizza bars and real clubs. We just used 16mm film because we love the way it looks.
Alex: That is how we see New York, because we grew up here, you know, as a kid in the 80s. That whole vibe probably feels old because we are old!
Your old logo was a pretty clear homage to the New York Knicks basketball team – is that a fan tribute?
Alex: It was a little too clear I think, we had to change it (laughs).
Nick: We are both huge Knicks fans, so we thought we’d pick the cheekiest, least classy design for Holy Ghost! and we went for it. We loved it, but then when the DFA lawyers had a look at it, they said it had to go!
Alex: We took it as an opportunity to rethink our branding. We got Michael Vadino, who does all the LCD Soundsystem artwork, to do something for us. He’s responsible for the new logo and the new look. Basically we’ll suggest some stupid ideas and he’ll turn it into something good.
So what does the name Patrick Ewing mean to you?
Alex: I think of that finger roll he missed in ’95. That was heartbreak man. The name Patrick Ewing brings up heartbreak.
Oops, that was the only ex-Knicks player I could think of off the top of my head…
Nick: John Starks is a proper hero though.
Well that’s the extent of my New York Knicks knowledge…But talking New York icons, how did first meet James Murphy?
Alex: We hooked up with James and DFA in 2001. He wasn’t a superstar then, just a guy who made a mean coffee and had this incredible ability to make music sound good.
Has he had a role in your album?
Nick: James has had no official role, but being as talented as he is, he’s been a huge influence. We’ve played him stuff, he’s given us tons of advice. He’s like the hip-hop sytle executive producer, like a Puff Daddy character, saying “yo that’s hot” or “you need somethin’ for the ladies”.
“We met James Murphy in 2001. He wasn’t a superstar then, just a guy who could make a decent coffee and make music sound good”
I hear you guys are working on a live show – how is that coming along?
Alex: We are working on the live show with Michael and Tyler from Classixx. They are really talented musicians, much better than us (laughs). They had it nailed after the first practice, they are total pros.
Nick: Plus they are younger and better looking.
Alex: Yeah, we’re already figuring out how we can put them in the front of all our press photos from now on.
How does the live show work?
Nick: Alex sings and is on the keyboards. I’m on the bass, Jerry Fuchs from the Juan Maclean and !!! is on the drums, Michael is really good at playing guitar and Tyler is the piano player.
Alex: And Tyler does the back up vocals too..
Nick: And all the other stuff we can’t play.
Alex: We hope to be ready to play in January or February next year…not before then though.
You guys have done some sterling remixes in the past – the reworks of Panthers and In Flagranti spring to mind. Are you working on any more at the moment?
Alex: We’ve just finished a few new ones. It’s funny actually, the biggest name remixes seem to be the ones that never see the light of day. We remixed the Kings of Leon’s “Cold Desert”, it was finished three months ago but we haven’t heard anything back. And we did one for Datarock, I don’t know when that is coming out…
That’s out already…
Nick: Oh there you go! You know more than we do (laughs). I haven’t even listened to the mastered version yet.
Alex: We’ve also remixed Van She’s cover of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”.
Nick: Yeah we are pretty happy with that one, it’s got a nice drum solo in it.
You guys do a lot of DJing now – having grown up playing in bands, is DJing something you are passionate about now?
Nick: It has become our bread and butter, we’ve basically been on tour for the past year.
Alex: We’d been buying vinyl for years anyway, just for different reasons, for samples, when the only way to get a Jean Luc Ponty record was to buy it for a dollar in a basement bin at a record store. Nick mostly uses vinyl, but I use CDs and vinyl. I’m a bit messy, so I accidentally destroy a lot of my records.
Do you feel any extra pressure now that you have become more popular?
Alex: I think about the pressure sometimes, but I really don’t think that many people care. I just hope that when the album comes out it will be representative of the three odd years we’ve spent on it.
Nick, you post regularly on the DFA forum. How important is it to you to keep in contact with your fans?
Nick: Yeah the forum is really cool – James posts on there a lot, actually a few of the DFA guys write on there. That’s the thing about DFA, it’s a real family and the fans are part of that family. I’m flabbergasted that people care about us at all and I’m honored that they do.